Lewis Hamilton is now breathing some of the rarefied air at the very top of his profession. His win in the Japanese Grand Prix and the failure of his world championship rival Sebastian Vettel to finish have made Hamilton champion in waiting, ready to ascend to the position of the most successful British driver of all time.
A fourth F1 title would put him one ahead of Sir Jackie Stewart’s total and into some exceptional company. Only four other drivers have four or more titles: Vettel, Alain Prost, Juan Manuel Fangio and Michael Schumacher.
In Japan, Hamilton made sure all but an exceptionally cruel fate could now deny him a place at that very top table.
Misfortune, of course, may yet befall him in the remaining four races and if it does he need look no further for understanding than Vettel, who has seen his challenge for the title, so strong for so long, crumble in a matter of three races. As Hamilton has grown stronger, Vettel has had to watch as the championship simply slips from his despairing grasp.
Hamilton began the weekend with a 34-point lead over Vettel. It is now 59.
The British driver could take the title at the US Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas on Sunday week. He needs to score 16 more points than the German in Texas to do so and a win with Vettel finishing below fifth would be enough.